RFTA will re-examine upper valley travel policy that riled some passengers

A RFTA bus is ready for service at Ruby Park on Thursday. RFTA would prefer that passengers traveling the free zone between Aspen, Buttermilk, te ABC and Intercept Lot take free Aspen-Snowmass buses rather than BRT buses. The policy will be re-examined.
Anna Stonehouse/The Aspen Times |

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority said it will review a recent policy on downvalley buses and either change it or figure out how to better execute it after drawing the ire of some riders.

RFTA management has urged its drivers to direct riders traveling downvalley within the upper Roaring Fork Valley zone to take the free Aspen-Snowmass buses rather than buses where there are paying customers, according to RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship.

All travel between the Rubey Park transit hub in Aspen and the Intercept Lot at Highway 82 and Brush Creek Road is free. However, many of the buses traveling that route charge a fare for passengers heading beyond the Intercept Lot to Basalt, Willits, El Jebel, Carbondale and Glenwood Springs on BRT service and “local” buses.

RFTA wants people boarding at places such as Rubey Park, Buttermilk and the Aspen Business Center and heading to the Intercept Lot to take the Aspen-Snowmass free service rather than BRT buses for a couple of reasons: to increase the chances of expediting trips on BRT buses and eliminate scofflaws. Some passengers will say they are going to the Intercept Lot to avoid paying a fare when traveling further downvalley.

“There’s that issue of fare evasion,” Blankenship said.

That tends to happen at the busiest times, when it is difficult for drivers to keep track of all passengers and their destinations, he said.

Drivers have been directed to ask passengers to take the Aspen-Snowmass bus, as long as one is traveling at about the same time “and they don’t have to wait for 15 minutes,” Blankenship said.

However, passengers traveling within the free upper valley zone will be allowed on the BRT buses if they object to having to catch an alternative bus.

RFTA realizes the policy has turned off some passengers. James Cohen is among them.

Cohen said he tried to board a bus at Buttermilk for a ride to the Intercept Lot in mid-January and was told by the driver the bus “doesn’t stop there.” He had ridden that route so often that he knew it was a lie, but he waited for the Snowmass-bound bus.

“When I finally got to the Intercept Lot, the bus which I was told didn’t stop there was there, of course,” Cohen explained in an email to The Aspen Times. “I walked up and asked the driver why he told me that the bus didn’t stop where it was stopped and he was shocked.

“He then told me the bus is for ‘paying riders’ and since the ride to the Intercept Lot was free, I couldn’t ride it.”

Cohen said the policy is a “clear violation of at least the spirit of encouraging people to park their cars and ride to work.”

The goal of local governments has been to make the park-and-ride lots as convenient as possible, Cohen noted. Indeed, the Elected Officials Transportation Committee, comprised of officials in Aspen, Snowmass Village and Pitkin County, is looking into costly investments at the Intercept Lot in an effort to entice more people to park there and take buses to and from Aspen.

Cohen said he has friends who have expressed frustration with the new RFTA policy.

Blankenship said management has put drivers in a tough spot. Explaining the policy and the reasons for it can be difficult, especially at busy times when several passengers are trying to board and a driver aims to stay on schedule. Some customers can get upset.

“It can escalate into, ‘Hey, why can’t I ride this?’” he said. “What we don’t want to do is make a big deal out of it.”

Blankenship said RFTA management “will put our heads together” in coming days and re-examine the policy.